Digging into Apple’s media transformation

Digging into Apple’s media transformation

4:29pm, 27th March, 2019
Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief, Matthew Panzarino, offered his analysis on the major announcements that came out of Apple’s keynote event this past Monday. Behind a series of new subscription and media products, Apple has set the stage for one of the largest transformations in the company’s history. Matthew touches on all of Apple’s major product initiatives including Apple’s new credit card, its push into original content, its subscription gaming platform, and its subscription news service, which features Extra Crunch as one of the debut publications. “I don’t think many of the things that Apple announced here, on an individual basis, are earth-shattering. I think it shapes up to be a really solid, nice offering for people with some distinct advantages but at the same time it’s not breaking huge molds here. I think the same thing applies across all of the offerings that they put out there. I just felt that together, it’s solid but not scintillating and we need to see how they develop, how they launch, and then what they do with these platforms… …Seems relatively straightforward. However, some of the stuff people have glossed over is very intriguing.” Matthew goes into more detail on why he didn’t view the announcements as individually earth-shattering, and why he sees compelling opportunities for Apple to position its offerings as a symbiotic ecosystem. He also goes under the hood to discuss some of Apple’s overlooked competitive advantages in media and to paint a picture of how Apple’s new product lines might evolve in the long-term. For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch.
Twitch launches a four-person ‘Squad Stream’ feature to help creators get discovered

Twitch launches a four-person ‘Squad Stream’ feature to help creators get discovered

2:20pm, 27th March, 2019
Twitch today the launch of a new feature called “Squad Stream,” which offers a way for up to four creators to go live and stream together within one window. The feature will allow creators to grow their communities by teaming up with others, as it gives streamers increased exposure by playing to a wider range of fans. Helping viewers find new people to follow is an area of ongoing interest for the company which has, in the past, from smaller streamers who complain they just broadcast to empty channels, and have trouble growing a fan base. To address this, Twitch today offers a feature called Raids, to grow their respective communities by driving traffic to each other’s channels. Squad Streams is an expansion on that as it’s actually allowing streamers to broadcast together. That is, instead of redirecting traffic, they’re sharing it. To participate in Squad Streams, creators can join up with one another from their dashboard by way of a new Squad Stream widget. They can then start their own squad by inviting others to join in, or they can accept an invite to join another squad. By default, any channels the streamers follow, have friended or are on the same team can send out Squad Stream invites. But this can be changed in the settings. During streams, viewers get to watch all creators in one window, which gives them different views on the action, Twitch explains. During streaming, fans can chat or cheer whoever is in the primary slot – an option they get to choose by clicking on any of the channels’ video player to make in the larger screen. Ads will play only in the primary slot, and viewership also only gets counted when a channel is in the primary slot, Twitch also notes. Unfortunately, the feature is launching first to Partners – the top-level streamers who are less in need of growing their community than smaller streamers. Twitch says this rollout strategy is due to the need for video quality options (transcodes) on the Squad Streams – an option Partners have on their streams by default. (Affiliates only receive them as they’re available, with priority access.) The video quality options allows the Squad Stream feature to display the video in the non-primary slots in a lower-quality mode, like 480p. Most streamers, however, stream in 720p or above, which is why the options are needed for Squad Stream to work, says Twitch. The company says its plan is to roll out Squad Stream to Affiliates and all other streamers in time, as it expands its transcodes capacity. Squad Stream’s launch is being kicked off by a schedule of four-person streams over the weeks ahead. (A ) Users can also look for the Squad Stream tag on the main Twitch page to find these streams.
Amazon’s Twitch launches Squad Stream feature to let up to 4 streamers play together

Amazon’s Twitch launches Squad Stream feature to let up to 4 streamers play together

12:13pm, 27th March, 2019
(GeekWire File Photo) Up to four game streamers on Twitch can now broadcast their points of view within the same window thanks to a new feature from the Amazon-owned streaming leader. , the highly sought-after feature among the Twitch audience known as Squad Stream is available now to the site’s . The feature is a good way for audiences to see multiple angles of a battle royale game like Fortnite or follow along as streamers team up in cooperative games. The feature is similar to one that Microsoft’s game streaming service . Co-streaming, as Mixer calls it, was part of a series of updates that came when the service formally known as Beam was rebranded after Microsoft acquired it. for $970 million. It is the dominant outlet for game streaming — the growing entertainment form where audiences watch gamers play their favorite titles — with 15 million daily visitors and 2.2 million broadcasters on its platform,
Game studio behind ‘Myst’ launches crowdfunding campaign for VR-enabled adventure ‘Firmament’

Game studio behind ‘Myst’ launches crowdfunding campaign for VR-enabled adventure ‘Firmament’

9:18am, 26th March, 2019
Concept art for Cyan’s next game, Firmament. (Source: Cyan press kit) , the Spokane, Wash-based studio behind the Myst franchise and its spiritual successor, Obduction, began a new crowdfunding campaign today for their next game, . “Kickstarter is a way for us to reach out to our fans to help us fund the types of games we like to build and they like to play,” Rand Miller, Cyan’s CEO, wrote in the company’s press release. “Empowering our fans to fund through Kickstarter allows us to explore these creative opportunities. Oh, and they’re gonna love this game.” The new game is an all-new story, though it draws on the same “steampunk” aesthetic as Myst did. All that’s known about the gameplay as of right now is that it’s built around exploration, with the player learning how to use the services of a mechanical adjunct as he or she traverses through multiple fantasy worlds. (In other words, it’s a Cyan game.) An official screenshot from Cyan’s next game, Firmament. (Cyan press kit) Firmament was initially revealed in March 2018, shortly before Cyan’s successful Kickstarter for the . If the Firmament crowdfunding campaign reaches its goal, it’s planned to launch in the summer of 2020. The campaign is for $1.3 million, and will last 30 days. Details on backer rewards are unknown. However, Cyan has already announced its intent to collaborate with to create a line of merchandise for Firmament. This isn’t terribly unusual, as a lot of indie games end up with Fangamer merch lines, ranging from pins and plushies to apparel and soundtrack albums on vinyl. Are you ready for another adventure? — Firmament (@firmamentgame) At time of writing, the plan is that a “traditional” version of Firmament will launch for PC gamers, with VR-enabled versions launching at the same time for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. This stands in contrast to Cyan’s previous project, Obduction, which began as a typical PC game and only received VR support relatively late in its operational existence. This marks further movement into the virtual reality space for Cyan, which launched a new publishing imprint, Cyan Ventures, in November. Cyan Ventures’ first release, , had its own successful Kickstarter in 2016, and is currently planned for release in late 2019. Zed is the work of Eagre Games, based in Ellsworth, Maine, and co-founded by Chuck Carter, one of the environmental artists on the original Myst. Cyan’s last two releases, Obduction and the Myst 25th Anniversary Collection, were both the result of successful Kickstarters, with the latter triple-funded by Myst fans before Cyan had the chance to put out a press release to announce the campaign had started. Myst was the single best-selling PC game of 1997, which launched both a franchise as well as a fervent fan community that persists to this day. The official Myst convention, , will be held this August in Cyan’s hometown of Spokane, Wash., at the Ruby River Hotel.
Washington game studio behind ‘Myst’ crowdfunds for new VR-enabled adventure ‘Firmament’

Washington game studio behind ‘Myst’ crowdfunds for new VR-enabled adventure ‘Firmament’

8:06am, 26th March, 2019
Concept art for Cyan’s next game, Firmament. (Source: Cyan press kit) , the Spokane-, Wash-based studio behind the Myst franchise and its spiritual successor, Obduction, began a new crowdfunding campaign today for their next game, . “Kickstarter is a way for us to reach out to our fans to help us fund the types of games we like to build and they like to play,” Rand Miller, Cyan’s CEO, wrote in the company’s press release. “Empowering our fans to fund through Kickstarter allows us to explore these creative opportunities. Oh, and they’re gonna love this game.” The new game is an all-new story, though it draws on the same “steampunk” aesthetic as Myst did. All that’s known about the gameplay as of right now is that it’s built around exploration, with the player learning how to use the services of a mechanical adjunct as he or she traverses through multiple fantasy worlds. (In other words, it’s a Cyan game.) An official screenshot from Cyan’s next game, Firmament. (Cyan press kit) Firmament was initially revealed in March 2018, shortly before Cyan’s successful Kickstarter for the . If the Firmament crowdfunding campaign reaches its goal, it’s planned to launch in the summer of 2020. The campaign is for $1.3 million, and will last 30 days. Details on backer rewards are unknown. However, Cyan has already announced its intent to collaborate with to create a line of merchandise for Firmament. This isn’t terribly unusual, as a lot of indie games end up with Fangamer merch lines, ranging from pins and plushies to apparel and soundtrack albums on vinyl. Are you ready for another adventure? — Firmament (@firmamentgame) At time of writing, the plan is that a “traditional” version of Firmament will launch for PC gamers, with VR-enabled versions launching at the same time for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. This stands in contrast to Cyan’s previous project, Obduction, which began as a typical PC game and only received VR support relatively late in its operational existence. This marks further movement into the virtual reality space for Cyan, which launched a new publishing imprint, Cyan Ventures, in November. Cyan Ventures’ first release, , had its own successful Kickstarter in 2016, and is currently planned for release in late 2019. Zed is the work of Eagre Games, based in Ellsworth, Maine, and co-founded by Chuck Carter, one of the environmental artists on the original Myst. Cyan’s last two releases, Obduction and the Myst 25th Anniversary Collection, were both the result of successful Kickstarters, with the latter triple-funded by Myst fans before Cyan had the chance to put out a press release to announce the campaign had started. Myst was the single best-selling PC game of 1997, which launched both a franchise as well as a fervent fan community that persists to this day. The official Myst convention, , will be held this August in Cyan’s hometown of Spokane, Wash., at the Ruby River Hotel.
No Man’s Sky’s next update will let you explore infinite space in virtual reality

No Man’s Sky’s next update will let you explore infinite space in virtual reality

9:30pm, 25th March, 2019
No Man’s Sky just figured out a way to make a wildly absorbing space exploration game even more immersive. Announced during Sony’s first update, No Man’s Sky devotees will soon be able to explore an endless procedurally generated universe in virtual reality. Hello Games’ Sean Murray followed Sony’s news with a The VR update is part of , the development team’s latest extremely generous bundle of new content, doled out to existing players for free. No Man’s Sky’s virtual reality makeover will launch on PlayStation VR and Steam VR this summer. The VR update will bring enhance the first-person perspective of the existing game, allowing players to steer a starship using their thruster, reach into a bag to fetch their multitool and wave to fellow players meandering around the vastness of space. No Man's Sky Virtual Reality is not a separate mode. Anything that is possible in NEXT or any other update is ready and waiting in VR. — Sean Murray (@NoMansSky) While we don’t know all of the details yet, that experience will dovetail nicely with the forthcoming feature cluster known as No Man’s Sky Online, “a radical new social and multiplayer experience” for the at times isolated space sim. “No Man’s Sky Virtual Reality is not a separate mode, but the entire game brought to life in virtual reality,” Murray wrote in. According to Murray the update will offer “a true VR experience rather than a port.” You can get a glimpse of how this will look in a teaser video, though since much of it depicts normal gameplay, there’s plenty of surprise still in store. Assuming the game runs well enough, No Man’s Sky Virtual Reality will be a far cry from gimmicky VR games that lack true depth, offering one of the most expansive — if not the most expansive — VR experiences to date. No Man’s Sky fans should still keep an eye out — there’s for the Beyond update, which is shaping up to make the No Man’s Sky world more epic than anyone who played the game at launch could ever have hoped for. “By bringing full VR support, for free, to the millions of players already playing the game, No Man’s Sky will become perhaps the most-owned VR title when released,” Murray wrote. “We are excited for that moment when millions of players will suddenly update and be able to set foot on their home planets and explore the intricate bases they have built in virtual reality for the first time.”
Apple Arcade is Apple’s new cross-platform gaming subscription

Apple Arcade is Apple’s new cross-platform gaming subscription

3:03pm, 25th March, 2019
wants to tilt the balance from ad-laden freemium gaming titles towards all-access ad-free gaming experiences that can be downloaded across platforms on iOS, macOS and tvOS. At the company’s services event this morning, they announced Apple Arcade, their new premium subscription service for gaming across their hardware products. “We want to make gaming even better,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said onstage. The subscription will boast 100+ new and exclusive games while Apple will be adding new content “all the time.” It looks like the company will have a hand in building out the titles by working directly with developer partners to product titles. Early partners include names like Disney, Konami and Lego. Another important note, all games will be playable offline. This is a content play rather than a tech product like Google’s recently-announced Stadia game-streaming platform. The subscription will provide access to all of the content in the games without ads. Apple has the benefit of building this directly into the App Store, you’ll be able to access Apple Arcade from a new bottom tab in the App Store app. This may be the company’s best chance at leveraging its strength on iOS to finally build a better home for games on Mac. The service is coming this fall. Apple oddly didn’t detail pricing though they did share it would be launching in 150 regions.
Nintendo will launch 2 new Switch consoles as soon as this summer, report says

Nintendo will launch 2 new Switch consoles as soon as this summer, report says

11:09am, 25th March, 2019
The Switch comes with a docking station, two Joy-Con controllers, and a Joy-Con Grip to make a more traditional controller. (Nintendo Photo) that Nintendo is working on two new versions of its Switch console: a souped up entry for avid gamers and a slimmed down edition that could serve as a successor to the 3DS. WSJ reports that Nintendo could announce these new consoles at the big E3 conference in June and release them soon after. The enhanced version won’t be as powerful as Microsoft’s Xbox One X but it will be an upgrade over the original Switch, per WSJ. The slimmed down version is aimed at casual gamers and will likely be cheaper than the $300 Switch. Developers and suppliers told WSJ that Nintendo wants the new consoles to stand out, beyond just a few design tweaks and enhanced or diminished performance. Pricing details are not yet available. We’ve reached out to Nintendo for comment and will update this story if we hear back. The Switch has been a revelation for Nintendo, since it debuted approximately two years ago. Nintendo has sold 32.27 million Switch units and 163.61 million games, as of Dec. 31. Nintendo sold 9.41 million Switch consoles , its best quarter yet. But the company brought its full-year Switch sales forecast down from 20 million units to 17 million for its fiscal year, which ends this month.
Fortnite, copyright and the legal precedent that could still mean trouble for Epic Games

Fortnite, copyright and the legal precedent that could still mean trouble for Epic Games

10:45am, 25th March, 2019
Anne Friedman Contributor is of counsel at DLA Piper where she focuses her practice on structuring and negotiating large scale sourcing and technology transactions. Andrew Deutsch Contributor is a partner at DLA Piper concentrating on intellectual property litigation and advice, including copyright, trademark, defamation and other First Amendment concerns, trade secret, unfair competition and misappropriation, advertising law, and law of the Internet, social media and electronic databases. Ric Flaggert Contributor is a partner at DLA Piper where he focuses his global practice on entertainment, media, and communications matters. A new U.S. Supreme Court decision is pitting entertainers and video game developers against one another in a high-stakes battle royale. The decision in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com LLC raises interesting questions about several lawsuits brought against Epic Games, the publisher of popular multiplayer game Fortnite. In Fortnite, players may make in-game purchases, allowing player avatars to perform popular dance moves (called emotes), such as the Carlton, the Floss, and the Milly Rock. Five performers, all represented by the same law firm, recently filed separate lawsuits against Epic Games in the Central District of California, each alleging: (i) the performer created a dance; (ii) the dance is uniquely identified with the performer; (iii) an Epic emote is a copy of the dance; and (iv) Epic’s use of the dance infringes the plaintiff’s copyright in the dance move and the dancer’s right to publicity under California statutory and common law. In short, the dance creators argue that Epic Games used their copyrightable dance moves in violation of existing law. The building battle What do these Fortnite lawsuits in California have to do with the US Supreme Court? US copyright law says that a copyright owner can’t sue for copyright infringement until “registration of the copyright claim has been made” with the US Copyright Office. Prior to the recent Supreme Court decision in Fourth Estate, lower federal courts split over what this language means. Some (including the federal courts in California) concluded that a copyright claimant could sue an alleged infringer upon delivering a completed copyright application to the Copyright Office. Other lower federal courts held that the suit could not be brought until the Copyright Office issued a registration, meaning that the Office viewed the work to be copyrightable. Because the Copyright Office now takes over seven months to process a copyright application and issue a registration, claimants often chose to sue in California federal courts, which had adopted the quicker “application approach.” This was the route chosen by the plaintiffs in all five Fortnite cases. Down (but not out) On March 4, 2019, in Fourth Estate, the Supreme Court ruled that California federal courts and others following the application approach were wrong, and that a plaintiff cannot sue for copyright infringement unless the Copyright Office has issued a copyright registration. This had an immediate impact on the Fortnite lawsuits because the Copyright Office had not yet registered any of the dances and, indeed, had found two of the plaintiffs’ dances uncopyrightable. Recognizing their vulnerability, plaintiffs preemptively withdrew these lawsuits, announcing they would refile the complaints once the Copyright Office issued registrations. Epic question #1: are the emote dances copyrightable? The central question is whether the dances used in Fortnite emotes are copyrightable material protected under US law. If not, then Epic Games’ use of the dances is not copyright infringement, and in-game sales of the particular dances may continue unfettered. Dance moves fall into a gray area in copyright law. Copyright law does protect “choreographic works,” but the Copyright Office says that “social dance steps and simple routines” are not protected. What’s the difference between the two? The Copyright Office says that choreography commonly involves “the composition and arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into a coherent whole” and “a story, theme, or abstract composition conveyed through movement.” Dances that don’t meet this standard can’t be copyrighted, even if they are “novel and distinctive.” So are the Fortnite plaintiffs’ dances “choreographic works” in the eyes of the Copyright Office? Herein lies a clash of cultures. The performer-plaintiffs undoubtedly feel they have created something not just unique, but a work entitled to protection for which they are owed damages. But the buttoned-down Copyright Office may not agree. The Copyright Office for the Carlton, a widely recognized dance popularized by Ribeiro during his days as Carlton Banks on the show Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The Office stated that the Carlton was “a simple routine made up of three dance steps” and “is not registrable as a choreographic work.” The plaintiffs’ lawyer in the Epic Games cases has disclosed that 2 Milly’s application for copyright in the Milly Rock was also rejected, but that a long “variant” of Backpack Kid’s Floss dance was accepted for registration. The Copyright Office’s view on the other two plaintiffs’ dances has not yet been reported. If a registration is denied Denial of a copyright registration is not necessarily a dead end for these lawsuits. The Copyright Act allows a plaintiff who has been refused a copyright registration by the Copyright Office to still sue a potentially offending party for copyright infringement. However, the Copyright Office can then join the lawsuit by asserting that the plaintiff’s work is not entitled to copyright protection. Historically, the federal courts have usually followed the Copyright Office’s view that a work is uncopyrightable. If the other Fortnite plaintiffs are denied registration, as Ribeiro and 2 Milly were, they will all face an uphill fight on their copyright claims. Other issues to overcome Even if the plaintiffs’ copyright claims survive, they face other problems, including originality, which is a requirement of copyright. If their dances are composed of moves contained in dances previously created by others, the plaintiffs may fail to convince the court that their dances are sufficiently original to warrant their own copyright. For example, Ribeiro that moves by Eddie Murphy, Courtney Cox and Bruce Springsteen inspired him when he created the Carlton. Ownership of the dance can also be at issue if the dance was created in the course of employment (such as while working as an actor on a television show), as the law may hold that the employer owns the copyright. Epic question #2: the right to publicity The plaintiffs’ right to publicity arguments could go further than their copyright infringement claims. The right to publicity claims were based on the assertion that plaintiffs’ dances are uniquely associated with them and that Epic Games digitally copied the plaintiffs performing the dances, then created a code that allows avatars to identically perform the dances. Some side-by-side comparisons of the original dance performances and the Epic emote versions (speed adjusted) look strikingly similar for the few seconds the emote lasts. According to plaintiffs, this use misappropriated their “identity.” Their assertion is not as far-fetched as it may seem, given the broad reading courts in California have given to the state’s common law and statutory publicity law. For example, the Ninth Circuit has previously ruled that an ad featuring a robot with a wig that turned letters on a board wrongfully took Vanna White’s identity, and that animatronic robots sitting at airport bars vaguely resembling “Norm” and “Cliff,” characters from the popular TV show Cheers, misappropriated the identities of the actors who played the roles, George Wendt and John Ratzenberger. There remains an open question on whether the courts will be willing to take another step and find that a game avatar having no physical resemblance to a performer misappropriates the performer’s publicity rights just because the avatar does a dance popularly associated with the performer. Once the Copyright Office announces its decisions on the outstanding copyright applications, the Fortnite plaintiffs may choose to re-file their cases; and this question could eventually be decided.
Walmart reportedly eyes game streaming service to rival offerings from Google and Microsoft

Walmart reportedly eyes game streaming service to rival offerings from Google and Microsoft

12:01pm, 22nd March, 2019
(Bigstock Photo) First it was Microsoft planning a cloud-powered game streaming service. Then Google, and now … Walmart? According to a Walmart is the latest big company to think about jumping into the competitive race for game streaming. The video game site reports through multiple anonymous sources familiar with Walmart’s plans, that the company has been talking with game developers and publishers throughout the early part of the year and at the big Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week. The report makes clear that Walmart is just exploring such a service at the moment. Walmart previously eyed a that would rival with Amazon Prime Video and Netflix before and choosing instead to focus on Vudu, a video service it acquired in 2010. We’ve reached out to Walmart for comment and will update this story if we hear back. Google this week , looking to shake up the video game world by y. In a departure from today’s gaming landscape, the service runs entirely in the cloud and doesn’t require a console. Though no pricing was announced, Google did show off a Stadia controller with a dedicated button for sharing and saving gameplay on YouTube, and another button to get help from Google Assistant, using a built-in microphone. Google hopes to beat gaming rival Microsoft and its own cloud game streaming service to market. Last year, the ambitious Project xCloud streaming service, a centerpiece in that lets gamers play powerful titles like Halo on smartphones.